Like many conditions that affect the nerves (particularly those in the hands and wrists), carpal tunnel syndrome is a progressive condition with symptoms that worsen and become more intense over time. Understanding the symptoms, causes, and risk factors for temporary and permanent carpal tunnel syndrome can help patients get an early diagnosis and prevent the condition from getting worse.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and What Causes It?
Sensation and motor function to the fingers (except for the pinky and outer facing portion of the thumb) are controlled by signals that run through the median nerve, which passes from the forearm through the wrist. Inflammation can cause the nerve to swell and become compressed inside of the carpal tunnel, which can cause pain and other symptoms, including mobility problems.
Though commonly believed to be a repetitive motion injury, the direct cause of median nerve compression is less understood, and can result from a range of stimulants, from heredity and genetics to the hormonal changes and surges commonly associated with pregnancy.
The most common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are numbness and tingling in the fingers and wrists, and this tingling can travel up the forearm as well. The pain and numbness can become constant and eventually lead to weakness and problems with movement, specifically with gripping or pinching movements with the thumb.
Protect Your Hands and Wrists with Preventive and Strengthening Stretches and Exercises
A pinched nerve in one or both wrists can interfere with everyday activities like gripping a steering wheel, typing, and holding a cell phone or other handheld device. Dr. Fitzmaurice advises patients to incorporate regular stretching and strength training activities for the hands and wrists into a regular exercise and wellness routine in order to help prevent and offset pressure on the median nerve.
The following exercises can help you stay healthy and active day after day.
Extend arms out in front of the body with the palms facing up towards the ceiling. Bend one wrist outwards toward the floor (palm side up), using the other hand to gently flex the wrist back, creating a gentle stretch in the forearm. Perform two to four repetitions, holding the position for 15 – 30 seconds each.
Place the palms together in the prayer position at chin level. Slowly lower the hands, keeping the palms together and close to the stomach, to waist level for a gentle stretch in the forearms. Perform two to four repetitions, holding the position for 15 – 30 seconds each.
Mirror Spider Pushups
The somewhat odd name notwithstanding, “spider pushups” are an excellent exercise to help stretch the median nerves and prevent the strain of carpal tunnel syndrome. With the palms facing together in prayer position, slowly separate the palms and spread the fingers, making sure to keep the tips of the fingers touching at all times, creating the “steeple” position. This simple exercise stretches several components, including the carpal tunnel, the median nerve, and the palmar fascia. Because it requires minimal movement, it can be performed at a desk at work or even while sitting in traffic.
Shake it Off
Giving the hands and wrists a vigorous shake, simulating the motion of air drying the hands after washing them, helps to alleviate cramping and numbness. Performing this motion for a minute or two several times a day can help to keep the flexor muscles and median nerves loose and relaxed throughout the day.
Stretch one arm straight in front of the body with the palm facing the floor. Use the other arm to stretch the down-facing palm at the wrist as far as comfortably possible. Hold the position for up to 20 seconds, repeating the stretch on both sides.
What to Do if You Think You Have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Dr. Fitzmaurice advises patients to make an appointment at the Fitzmaurice Hand Institute in Phoenix for persistent pain or numbness in the hands, fingers, or wrists. If left untreated, some injuries and conditions could result in permanent nerve damage, causing pain and mobility problems. Depending on the severity and cause of symptoms, many cases of carpal tunnel syndrome and other nerve injuries to the upper extremities can be treated with minimally invasive outpatient surgery, which has significantly lower risk of side effects and complications and faster healing and recovery rates than traditional open surgery.
Learn more about this hand and wrist condition by visiting WebMD.com.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Treatment in Phoenix
If you are experiencing persistent pain, numbness, or tingling in your wrists, hands, or fingers, you may be suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome or another hand injury. For more information on prevention, minimally invasive outpatient hand and wrist surgery, and recovery options, contact board certified hand surgeon Dr. Michael Fitzmaurice to schedule an appointment at the Fitzmaurice Hand Institute in Phoenix today!
Next, read our blog, The Fast-Acting Results of Carpal Tunnel Treatment.